Exposed: British report reveals China’s infiltration of campuses, control of its students

by WorldTribune Staff, July 17, 2023

China has fully infiltrated Great Britain’s universities, bribing academics not to criticize Beijing, intimidating Chinese students in the UK who dare to speak out against the communist regime, and stealing research which could benefit China’s military, according to a report by the UK parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.

Chinese deployed operatives to the UK who approached academics, promising them “professional inducements” such as research funding and travel opportunities, the 200-page report said.

Universities have been relying on China for funding while “turning a blind eye to the risk,” the committee found. It singled out the University of Surrey for taking a £7.5 million (U.S $9.8 million) donation from Huawei, the Chinese telecoms firm, to fund its 5G/6G Innovation Centre.

Both academics and students faced intimidation from Chinese state authorities, the committee said.

Committee chair Julian Lewis said: “China has been aggressive in its interference activities… It has been particularly effective at using its money and influence to penetrate or buy academia in order to ensure its international narrative is advanced and criticism suppressed.”

The committee’s report found that the communist regime of Xi Jinping is using universities to act against British interests, such as by exploiting research programs for the benefit of the Chinese military.

According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the People’s Liberation Army has sent approximately 500 military scientists to UK academic institutions in the decade up to 2017.

“Once established in academic institutions, these students are in a position to identify and exfiltrate valuable information, data and intellectual property back to China,” the committee said.

For example, the University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute launched a five-year collaborative program with China’s Aero Engine Corporation to “accelerate the application of graphene in the aviation industry and other sectors”.

Chinese reports suggested that Beijing’s new Z-10 attack helicopter had graphene armor which may have been developed thanks to the partnership.

Manchester also worked with Central South University China on a new ceramic coating which could “revolutionize hypersonic travel for air, space and defense purposes.”

“It appears highly likely therefore that collaboration on joint UK-China research projects is being exploited for military use,” the report said. “The Government noted that research related to engineering or physical sciences was most likely to have a defense use (and therefore was at greatest risk).”

The committee said that, in addition to using students to steal information and intellectual property, China also utilizes so-called “talent programs”, offering very significant monetary bonuses and research budgets to foreign scientists to work or teach in China.

The report said: “In its quest for economic advantage, China often acts in plain sight – directing, funding and collaborating on academic research for its own ends. In particular, it seeks to benefit the Chinese military through research on dual-use technologies, which is often unclassified in its early stages.”

The report continued: “There is a question as to whether academic institutions are alive to the threat posed by such collaboration, particularly given they often accept transfer of Information Data and Intellectual Property as a condition of funding. The vast number of Chinese students in academic institutions in the UK that are involved in cutting-edge research must therefore raise concerns, given the access and opportunities they are afforded.”

Professor Steve Tsang of the School for Oriental and African Studies told the committee that, within six months of him taking up the role, a political councilor from the Chinese embassy approached him and offered him anything he wanted in an attempt to curry favor.

“It is as blatant as that,” he said.

China tries to use access to visas as leverage, the committee found. Tsang said: “You say something they don’t like, they deny you a visa.”

The chief of the Secret Intelligence Service told the committee: “If you are an academic and specializing in China, and your entire academic life is focused on China, the threat of not allowing you to travel to the country of your academic focus is a very powerful threat.”

The committee’s report also highlighted the 29 Confucius Institutes that China has opened in the UK, saying that “UK students are taught an interpretation of China that reflects the CCP’s interests.”

The committee noted: “The Nottingham University School of Contemporary Chinese Studies received money from the university’s Confucius Institute to fund core academic activities – thereby giving it influence over who came to speak at the university on Chinese issues.”

Chinese students in the UK are monitored by more than 90 Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSAs), partly financed by the Chinese embassy.

Tsang said: “The student bodies are infiltrated. We know there are meetings through the middle of the night and the following morning some Chinese students can get rung up by somebody at the cultural and education section of the embassy to ask them: why did you say that? Why did you do that?”

The committee said this was resulting in a “culture of fear and suspicion among Chinese students in the UK.”

More than 120,000 Chinese students are at UK universities, five times as many as the second country, India.

“Pressure is exerted on institutions, academics and students to prevent engagement with topics that harm the positive narrative presented by the Chinese Communist Party,” the committee said.

“This is particularly acute when it involves the so-called ‘Five Poisons,’ Taiwanese independence, Tibetan independence, Xinjiang separatists, the Chinese democracy movement and the Falun Gong.”

In November 2019, a Chinese student was photographed in Edinburgh with a sign supporting Hong Kong citizens’ demands for free elections. The following day, he was secretly photographed at Edinburgh Airport while escorting his mother to her flight. Both photos were circulated on Weibo, the Chinese social media site, by someone who believed the student was returning to Chengdu, his home town.

The post – entitled “Brothers from Chengdu, beat him to death” – contained the flight number and a call for him to be arrested by police or assaulted by citizens. It was shared 10,000 times.

In the same month, the Glasgow CSSA promoted flashmobs to confront Hong Kong demonstrations. One Hong Kong student said: “There is Chinese embassy involvement in these demonstrations… They surrounded us in a circle, waving Chinese flags, singing the national anthem and being hostile.”

Lord Patten of Barnes said that when he was chancellor of the University of Oxford, the Dalai Lama was invited to speak by the university’s Buddhist society.

“Within 48 hours, I had the then-Chinese ambassador on the phone saying: ‘This is a disgraceful insult to the People’s Republic of China’ and so on,” he said. He refused to intervene.

The report concluded that the Government was not doing enough to safeguard universities, pointing out that there is not even a point of contact in Whitehall for academics worried about Chinese influence.

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